Neighborliness is a civic virtue and a precious community asset that increases everyone’s quality of life, especially now with more people working from their homes at least part of the time. Neighbors who are helpful, friendly, respectful, and trustworthy are worth their weight in gold.
If you’re fortunate to enjoy good neighbor relations, count your blessings. A 2022 study by HomeAdvisor found that nearly half of homeowners (45 percent) have experienced in the past or continue to have a long-running feud with at least one neighbor. Reasons for disputes included excessive noise, pets, landscaping, parking, and overflowing garbage containers, which provoked 42 percent of the survey respondents to consider relocating and 13 percent to move.
Like all relationships, communication between neighbors is crucial – and so is doing your part to help minimize the chances that common neighborhood conflicts will arise in the first place.
Stormy Issues Ahead
Consider what happens when a homeowner’s backyard tree falls onto a next-door neighbor’s deck. Who is at fault for the damage may not always be clear-cut. For example, if the tree has decayed, with rotting branches and roots, and was in obvious need of an arborist, the homeowner whose tree fell may be on the hook financially for replacing or repairing the neighbor’s damaged deck.
The issue is often one of negligence and proof: The neighbor with the damaged deck may have a claim if they can show the owner was somehow negligent in reasonably maintaining the tree. If the neighbor with the damaged deck can produce documentary evidence of having contacted the owner more than once regarding their concerns about the decaying tree, they may have a better case against the owner for the full cost of repair or replacement.
To keep tree issues from developing, have an arborist trim or prune potential hazards above and inspect the trunk and root system below ground to help identify developing problems. If the tree or branch crosses over your property line, consider removing the hazard.
Liability Risks in the Making
Aside from incidents involving property damages, one neighbor may be liable for injuries sustained by another neighbor who slips and falls on their property due to an uneven sidewalk or ice or snow that has not been salted or removed.
Pets are another possible lawsuit in the making if they are not properly fenced or leashed and there is evidence of the owner’s negligence that leads to injury. According to the Insurance Information Institute, homeowners insurers paid out $882 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2021. Depending on the full facts involved, there is a potential that a dog owner could be deemed negligent by a court for leaving a gate open, for instance, when this leads to a situation where the family dog escapes the yard and bites a neighbor. If you do feel that your neighbor’s dog is vicious, being treated poorly, or that the dog poses a threat to your neighborhood, you should contact animal control or the police. It's best to go to the authorities rather than attempting to confront the dog’s owner directly, which could put you at risk.
Reducing the Risk of Lawsuits and Property Damages
The good news is that numerous ways exist to reduce the risk of lawsuits involving bodily injury and property damage claims. A good start is to be a good neighbor. According to a Canadian study, life satisfaction rises when people feel they belong to their local community, which is distinctly related to regular contact and positive relationships with neighbors. Just saying “good morning” goes a long way towards spreading happiness and understanding.
Before you find yourself having to “mend fences,” now is a good time to take care of what’s on your side of the fence. Reach out to neighbors to let them know you’re installing a new fence or landscaping, repaving the driveway, or going out of town for a few days and have arranged for someone to shovel the snow or salt the ice. If your neighbor expresses concern about potential risks related to your home, property, or pets, don’t ignore it.
And in the spirit of neighborhood harmony, if you’re planning a nighttime party, let the neighbors know about it in advance. Better yet, invite them to the party. Even if they decline or just stop by for a few minutes, they won’t forget how lucky they are to have such a good neighbor.
Jenny Naughton is Executive Vice President, Risk Consulting Officer for Chubb Personal Risk Services.
The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.